Probiotics are on the rise
Everybody is talking lately about how many health benefits we can get from taking probiotics. What we should know is that probiotics are live microorganisms that we can find in different foods fermented with bacteria such as yogurt (Greek yogurt especially), kefir and ayran (a dairy based Turkish drink), in specific food supplements or even in skin lotions.
It is common to believe that bacteria are something to be avoided because of their harmful properties. In the case of probiotics, the name itself help us understand the great benefits they bring to our body (pro biota = for life). But what many people don’t know is that probiotics contain good bacteria that help the body to function as it supposes.
A good example are the microorganisms that live in the intestines; they do an excellent job in digesting the food, killing toxins and producing a large number of vitamins necessary for the health of the entire body. So, not all the microorganisms living naturally on and in our bodies are harmful to our health.
It is not necessary to take probiotics in order to be healthy, but studies showed since the 1990’s that a therapy with these good bacteria help the digestion and offers a natural barrier against harmful microorganisms, and they might delay the occurrence of allergies in children and they can prevent and cure sometimes vaginal and urinary infections in women.
It is an interesting fact that around 100 trillion microorganisms (from 500 different species) can be found in a healthy bowel. This microflora is not meant to make us ill; these bacteria are good for our health.
They fight pathogens elements, improve the digestion and allow the nutrients to be absorbed properly by the body, and they also help the immune system.
What are PREBiotics?
You do have to know a little about prebiotics as well. Prebiotics are carbohydrates that cannot be digested and they serve as food for probiotics. It seems like there is a close and significant relationship between prebiotics and probiotics. If probiotics are found in yogurt and other dairy products, prebiotics are usually found in onions, honey, whole grains, artichokes, bananas and garlic.
Northern European and Japanese people are big consumers of probiotics. While in the United States the concept of probiotics it has just started to be brought to the attention of individuals.
Different researchers conducted studies on probiotics and they came to the conclusion that these good bacteria can prevent or they can actually cure specific health conditions, including:
- Digestive problems such as diarrhea when is caused by infections or by the long time use of antibiotics, the irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease
- Allergic issues (eczema and hay fever)
- Oral health problems (tooth decay)
- Digestive issues in infants such as colic
- Liver problems
- Colds and flu
- Enterocolitis in very low birth weight infants
- Vaginal yeast infections
- Urinary tract infections
- Gastrointestinal problems and probiotics
They obtained excellent results in treating diarrhea with probiotics therapy. Lactobacillus GG is the one responsible for eliminating infectious diarrhea in children and infants. No results were observed for the same bacteria in adults. Other studies showed that diarrhea provoked by a long-term use of antibiotics is reduced by 60% when is treated with probiotics.
The irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease can make the person feel uncomfortable most of the time. The use of probiotics can improve the symptoms of this disease, and they can cure ulcerative colitis as studies have shown so far. It is necessary for more research to be conducted to find out the exact probiotic that helps each digestive illness.
Vaginal infections and probiotics
For urogenital health, probiotics are great. We might want to think that vagina, like the intestinal tract, has a delicate ecosystem.
The Lactobacillus transform this ecosystem in an acidic one where harmful bacteria cannot live. The flora of the vagina can become out of balance sometimes because of different factors such as birth control pills, antibiotics, the use of sterilet or diaphragm or spermicides.
It is recommended the treatment with probiotics when urogenital issues are occurring such as yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis or urinary infection.
It is not uncommon for women with these genital conditions to consume yogurt or to insert it into the vagina to heal the infection. This is a so-called traditional remedy for which conventional medicine offers little support. There are just a few proofs of urogenital infections treated with Lactobacilli.
It is important to pay attention and to prevent and cure vaginosis because it creates a high risk in pregnant women, they might have pregnancy complications and even pelvic inflammatory condition. It seems like researchers are conducting several studies about the probiotic treatment of urinary infection. No results are published so far.
Why is it important to give probiotics to infants?
It was a common belief that amniotic fluid in the womb is sterile. New studies have shown that even the amniotic liquid can be infected. If the mother has untreated vaginal infections, at the moment when the body prepares for the birth of the baby, the harmful bacteria migrates from the vagina and it enters into the amniotic fluid. That’s why when the labor begins these unwanted bacteria might infect the body of your little one.
These bacteria can enter even in the infant’s digestive system.
It is important that the mother makes sure she has a healthy microflora in her stomach and her vagina when she gets pregnant.
Lots of studies have shown that more than 85% of women deal with vaginal infection before giving birth.
Babies affected by these harmful bacteria deal with severe digestive problems, including colic, reflux or gas. They can also experience newborn baby constipation. Because their immune system is not completely formed, they cannot deal with these toxins inherited from their mother.
It is important for a newborn baby to develop a healthy digestive system with good bacteria to keep his immune system balanced as well. Those who fail to do so are more likely to develop allergies or other severe health problems, including autism.
Make sure you discuss with the doctor the options you have before you start giving probiotics to your child.
Mental disorders and probiotics
Probiotics are great not only to improve your digestive system, to prevent and cure some urogenital infections, to delay the development of allergies or to help the body fight the cold or flu, but they are also excellent when it comes to improving your mood.
These good bacteria can improve the mental recovery in persons dealing with depression.
In the Netherlands, scientists conducted a study at the Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition (Leiden University). The researchers came up to the conclusion that probiotics might have a word to say when it comes to mental recovery after depression, anxiety or they might just improve your overall mood after a bad day.
The study was conducted on 40 young adults in good health. Half of the group consumed a particular powder of probiotic every evening for four weeks in a row.
The supplement that they consumed was called Ecologic Barrie and it contained eight types of bacteria, including Lactococcus (known for their anti-anxiety and anti-depression properties), Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus.
The other half of the group consumed a placebo, but they were told they are taking probiotics.
Those who consumed the probiotics observed that their mood improved a lot. They said they were having less and less sad or depressive thoughts or that they were dealing better with a bad mood, which was not the case for those in the group who consumed a placebo.
One author of the study concluded that the results provided proofs that a regular intake of probiotics might help the organism and reduce the depressive thoughts and sad mood. This study opens the path for therapists to recommend probiotics as an adjuvant for the conventional therapy for depression.
Not much is known about the relationship between intestinal bacteria and mental health. Even if it was an interest in this subject at the beginning of the 20th century, not many studies have been conducted. But recent research has shown that people who introduce probiotics in their daily diet are reducing the level of anxiety and depression, and they have a lower level of stress hormone (cortisol) in their saliva in the morning.
Before new studies are bringing to light the full benefits of probiotics it is a good idea to eat yogurt or kefir first thing in the morning to maintain a healthy intestinal flora and who knows to improve your mood and mental health as well.
How much is known about the safety of probiotics?
Healthy people rarely or never reported having side effects after consuming probiotics. Those with health issues (like those with immune system problems) have reported severe complications such as infections.
At this point we might still wonder which probiotics are helpful and which are not. As we don’t know how much probiotic a person should take to improve his health. Scientists are still struggling to find the answers to these questions.
It is crucial to know that not all probiotics act the same in the human body. A specific Lactobacillus might help to prevent a health issue, while about another type of Lactobacillus we don’t know if it acts the same in the organism. It is the same thing with Bifidobacterium probiotics.
When you purchase a product containing probiotics make sure you check the label and the ingredients every single time. This way you avoid making your health condition worse.
Everything starts with the manufacturer who is responsible for using high-quality ingredients and who has to put the right and accurate information on the label. Make sure you discuss the options you have with your doctor, before taking any dietary supplements available on the market.
FDA (the US Food and Drug Administration) did not approve so far the use of probiotics for curing or preventing health issues.
Even if probiotics are not officially recognized for the health benefits they carry, the marketing industry took care of spreading different stories about how a specific probiotic can cure miraculously different diseases, attracting this way a large number of people interested in finding alternative treatments to those that conventional medicine is offering.
Because many probiotics are sold as dietary supplements, they do not need the FDA approval before they are brought on the market. These nutritional supplements can make claims about how that particular product will affect the functioning of the body without asking FDA approval. But what they cannot do is to make health claims (claims that the probiotic will treat, heal or prevent specific diseases) without FDA final consent.
Side Effects of Probiotics
As we said before, it is important to be healthy for the probiotics to bring more health benefits to your body.
Healthy people are taking probiotics, and they are reporting little to no side effects at all (they might get a mild digestive condition such as bloating or gas)
People with medical problems should be careful when consuming probiotics because have been reported important side effects such as infections
People who are more likely to develop side effects after taking probiotics are those who just had surgery, people with low immune system and very ill infants
Do not jump to the conclusion that the probiotics are safe for all healthy people. The studies that have been conducted so far haven’t paid too much attention to safety.
Two specific bacteria have been investigated so far: Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. Most of the conclusions about probiotics are based on how these two bacteria responded and acted in the human body.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health presented the results of a recent study. The results showed that a specific Lactobacillus bacteria is perfectly safe and suitable for healthy people of 65 years old or even older. But this study doesn’t indicate that all probiotics are safe for people at this age.
A few pieces of advice to take into consideration
Do not hurry to replace conventional medicine treatments with unproven or experimental products or remedies. Do not choose a probiotic as a treatment because you avoid seeing your health provider.
Consult your doctor first if you decide to try a complementary health product, such as probiotics. It is important to do so, especially if you have health issues. It is better to be monitored while taking the probiotics in this case.
Consult your doctor if you want to take probiotics and you are pregnant and make sure to visit the child’s health provider if you decide to give him a dietary supplement that contains probiotics.
It is wise to talk with your doctor frequently when you take probiotics and to keep him post about all the complementary health products you are using. This way you allow him to guide you better and make the right recommendations for the health problems you are dealing with.
The list of health benefits of probiotics remains open and hopefully new studies about these good bacteria will bring to light new discoveries about their properties and useful ways for us to consume them.